Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year Baby

I confess, I had to click this morning's Google logo to figure out what the heck it was. Jumping frogs # Rossini's birthday, because I didn't notice that one of them was a barber. He's not wearing 18th c. Spanish clothing, either.

That said, yes, it's Giacchino Rossini's birthday, and all the best people are celebrating. As Joshua notes, his greatest achievement was his last opera, Guillaume Tell. I nearly fell over the only time I've seen it performed. It's a towering masterpiece of great musical and theatrical depth, with a most remarkable finale.

I'll get to that in a minute. Let's start with the overture. Yes, you might think you know it, but I was flabbergasted to find recently that a highly knowledgable musician friend had never heard the whole thing. There is no greater opera overture, from the solo cellos in the first section to the call to arms in the last.

Here is a great, great performance of the duet "Ah, Mathilde," in the wrong language, but never mind. Marcel Journet as William Tell and Giovanni Martinelli at his youthful and heroic best as Arnold:

Here's the finale, all prayers and flowing harps. This is after quite a lot of tense action. The performance embedded below is not quite the most professional imaginable, but it'll give you an idea. If you want to hear more, you could pick up the recent recording conducting by Antonio Pappano or the older recording (in Italian, alas) with Pav and Caballe.

If you ever have a chance to see Tell, buy a ticket immediately. You won't regret it for a second.

Party Like It's 1912!

I see that the upcoming anniversary of the RMS Titanic's first and only voyage has gotten cruise lines all excited:

Martyrdom Season

Martyrdom isn't as hard a sell as Joshua Kosman might have it:
  • Khovanshchina
  • Dialogues of the Carmelites
  • Le Martyr de St. Sebastien / [Suor Angelica? you tell me. In theory, it's possible to do the whole five-hour pagent of St. Sebastien, in practice, nobody would come the audience would consist of me and Patrick.]
  • The Maid of Orleans
  • Giovanna d'Arco
  • Jeanne d'Arc au Bucher
Okay, I got carried away: I was going to list three operas, but...okay, it's a little heavy on Joan of Arc. Suggested additions?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


For some reason, the Times has a headline saying Romney has won Arizona, even though they're also showing 0% of precincts reporting:

Something is wrong: either their statistics haven't updated or they've prematurely put up that headline. Or they're lying or they're guessing. Have the polls even closed in Arizona??

Double Bill

Some enterprising opera company needs to put on a double bill of Bel Canto and The Death of Klinghoffer.

Held Hostage

Lyric Opera of Chicago has just announced a commission for the 2015-16 season: an opera by Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez, with libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto. This is part of the Renee Fleming Initiative; the singer in Bel Canto was supposed inspired, in part, by Fleming. Stephen Wadsworth directs; Andrew Davis conducts; Danielle de Niese takes the soprano lead.

I hated Bel Canto so much I threw it against the wall 100 pages in, wishing that the terrorists would open fire, already. So I can't tell you how the story ends, but I can tell you that I found one musical gaffe and one possible medical gaffe in those 100 pages.

As Alex Ross noted, it's good to see a commission going to a genuinely new face, and I hope the opera is a resounding success. The subject matter may keep me away, though.


What mechanisms exist for connecting composers and performers?

Okay, I know what they are at the John Adams/SFS/LAPO or Magnus Lindberg/NYPO or Mark Adamo/SFO level: organization wants a new work from a prominent composer, the organization or the music director knows or likes a particular composer, a big-money donor wants to sponsor a new work, etc.

Then there are famous new music ensembles like ICE and Bang on a Can.

What happens elsewhere? How do composers and performers find each other?

Monday, February 27, 2012

New and Unusual

Other Minds 17 is this week and has the usual spectacular lineup of experimental composers: Øyvind Torvund, Simon Steen-Andersen, Gloria Coates, Harold Budd, Ikue Mori, Lotta Wennakoski, John Kennedy, Tyshawn Sorey, and Ken Ueno. They're at the JCC on California Street....Volti sings music of Estrada, Esmail, Conte, Ruo, and Muehleisen in San Francisco, Mill Valley, and Berkeley, on March 2, 3, and 4; tickets are $25/$20/$10...Also opposite Volti and Other Minds, BluePrint New Music has works by Neil Rolnick, Stefan Cwik, and Philip Glass on March 3 at the SF Conservatory of Music....San Francisco Symphony has five programs in the American Mavericks series; three are symphonic, two chamber. Oh, they've added an upcoming organ concert to the mix because one of Mason Bates's pieces is on it. Those concerts are from March 4 to 18.

Krugman's Next

Paul Krugman has a new book coming out in a couple of months: End This Depression Now!

Sunday, February 26, 2012


We watched the Oscar ceremony tonight with friends, and were variously cheered and not by the actual awards.

I'm glad that the two most overrated films of the year, Hugo and The Descendants, didn't get the Big Awards. Hugo had many charms, but it was also too long and overstuffed because Scorsese tried to jam two movies into one - the story of Hugo and the Melies/magic of filmmaking story. I don't understand why Ben Kingsley didn't get a Best Supporting nomination for Hugo, and didn't you get sick of looking at the kid's sad face??

As for The Descendants, the sub-plot of the fate of the 25,000 acres on Kauai interested me more than anything else in the film; I thought Clooney was good, not great, not Best Actor material at all; I thought the young woman who played his older daughter quite the best of the leads, with Beau Bridges's five minutes as his cousin a great cameo. Clooney's character just never impressed me much; no, I did not think he did much of a job of stepping up with his kids, nor did I find his reactions particularly believable. The score, made up mostly of traditional Hawaiian music, doesn't seem to have been noticed, and was absolutely wonderful.

Clooney's other big film, Ides of March, was inexplicably neglected by the Academy. Ryan Gosling gave a surprisingly good performance, especially in the face of the extremely heavy hitters in the other roles: Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti, not to mention Gregory Itzen's riveting three minutes on screen. Seriously, could you come up with a stronger lineup? Only by throwing Sean Penn and Ralph Fiennes into the mix, with a side order of Streep.

I also thought that The Artist, which I liked very much, was not the best picture I saw that was released last year. That would probably be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, though I freely admit that if you hadn't read the book or seen the great BBC TV series with Alec Guiness as George Smiley, you would not have had a chance of following the plot. As much as I liked Jean Dujardin, who is utterly charming and obviously an extremely talented guy, Gary Oldman's performance as Smiley was a towering achievement. For that matter, the whole cast was so strong that I would not have been surprised by Best Supporting Actor nominations for Mark Strong (Jim Prideaux), Tom Hardy (Ricki Tarr), or Benedict Cumberbatch (Peter Guillam).

In the Best Supporting Actress category, well, I'm sorry it wasn't the wonderful Janet McTeer, who walked off with Albert Nobbs. Glenn Close was also terrific; this was her sixth or seventh nomination without a win. We just saw it last night, and, really, it's a lovely picture.

Update: Alex Ross and Sasha Frere-Jones have a few things to say about the rules for Best Original Score. This is of particular concern given that Ludovic Bource won for The Artist.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Season Announcement Season: The Met

As I just noted elsewhere, the Met schedule for 2012-13 is mighty light on...well...a lot of things.
  • Seven new productions, sixteen revivals.
  • There are five operas written after 1900, but with one exception, they're as musically mainstream/conservative/popular as can be: La Rondine, Turandot, Francesca da Rimini, Dialogues of the Carmelites, The Tempest. Alex Ross put it differently: only two operas written since 1950.
  • There are four operas written before 1800, and Mozart wrote three of them: Giulio Cesare, Don Giovanni, Nozze, Clemenza di Tito.
  • We get more Ring cycles - without Bryn Terfel! - and Parsifal.
  • There's a lot of Verdi but it's all popular middle/late Verdi: La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Don Carlo, Un  Ballo in Maschera, Aida, Otello. Um, the guy actually knew what he was doing before Rigoletto.
  • No Britten. No Adams, no Glass.
Putting it another way, while there's some nice casting, there are only 4.5 (or 5.5) operas I've never seen. The half is Le Comte Ory, which I saw on HD broadcast. The 4 or 5 is because I'm not sure what I saw at Covent Garden in 1982. It might have been Clemenza. I've never seen Maria Stuarda, The TempestFrancesca or Troyens.

If I lived in NYC, I'd be most excited by The Tempest and Les Troyens, which my regular readers could have guessed. I think had both of them in the first season of Fantasy Opera! Well, okay, I'd be excited by Jonas Kaufmann and Peter Mattei in Parsifal. And by Francesca, a score I like a whole lot. But the cast of Troyens....well, hmm. And although I am not a fan of Dialogues, I'd go for the cast.

Overall, not a season to get super excited about, and it seems a step backwards from the last couple of year's repertory.

What I Really Want to Know...

How does Michael Daugherty represent Toscanini's seven-year-long affair with soprano Geraldine Farrar? A few handy quotations from Rosenkavalier?

Not Exactly a Contest, But...

...I invite you to imagine what LA Opera's "English translations" of the Albert Herring libretto might be:

Thursday, February 23, 2012


From the Metropolitan Opera season announcement, regarding Thomas Ades's The Tempest:
Robert Lepage’s innovative production recreates the interior of the La Scala opera house as the magical island venue for the otherworldly arts of Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan.
After the wretched mess of the new Ring, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? And, ah, what makes the interior of La Scala an appropriate analog to Prospero's island?

I'm still dissecting (and cringing periodically at) the press releases. You can read along at home:
Can't find the web site of the HD broadcasts, but I have the press release, and it's a tasty season! They're broadcasting Elisir, Otello, The Tempest, Clemenza di Tito, Ballo, Aida, Les Troyens (!), Maria Stuarda, Rigoletto, Parsifal, Francesca da Rimini, and Giulio Cesare

Singers I'd Like to See (or See Again) in SF

We've had any number of outstanding singers wander in for the run of something, then never appear again. Could we bring back, or see for the first time, some of the following?

  • Mariusz Kwiecien
  • Peter Mattei
  • Eva-Marie Westbroek
  • Anja Harteros
  • Christine Goerke
  • Christine Brewer
  • Stuart Skelton
  • Emily Magee
  • Emily Pulley
  • Jonas Kaufman
  • Klaus Florian Vogt
  • Torsten Kerl
  • Ewa Podles
  • Stefan Margita
  • Katarina Dalayman
  • Sophie Koch
  • Richard Paul Fink
  • Gerald Finley
Would have been nice if we could have gotten Ben Heppner here between 1996 and now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday Miscellaney

Where did the last few days go??? Anyway...

LA Opera offers $25 tickets to Albert Herring for "opera virgins." It's a three-day sale, February 22-24, so don't wait....San Francisco Symphony has Play on, Davies! workshops for instrumentalists on Sunday, April 22 (strings) and Thursday, April 26 (woodwinds and brass), 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. $40 per person, limited space...Abel Gance's Wagnerian silent film Napoleon comes to the magnificent Paramount Theater in Oakland next month, with performances on March 24, 25, and 31 and April 1, complete with full orchestra....La Cieca has a contest going: design the Most Plausible and the Most Visionary possible seasons for poor New York City Opera....

Seventh Avenue Performances presents music for voice and harp, with soprano Jennifer Paulino (she is really really good!) and harpist Diana Rowan, on Saturday, February 25, 7:30 p.m. at 1329 Seventh Avenue, SF...The Community Women's Orchestra celebrates International Women's Day on Sunday, March 4, at 5 p.m., with a program that includes Florence Price's Symphony No. 3. The concert is at Lake Merritt United Methodist Church in Oakland....California Bach Society's next program is madrigals from all over Europe. Paul Flight is on sabbatical; Amy Stuart Hunn conducts. Concerts are March 16 to 18 in SF, Palo Alto, and Berkeley.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Elizabeth Connell

I'm sorry to report that soprano Elizabeth Connell has died, age 65, of lung cancer, at her home in London. She sang at San Francisco Opera several times in the 1990s. I don't remember her Ortrud very well (I didn't know Lohengrin well at the time), but her Elektra was well sung and her Isolde extremely beautiful. She had a full, clear, rounded, very large voice with high notes that I remember as billowing out into the hall, without the slightest hint of shrillness. The Tristan performances were memorable for good reasons (Connell, Violetta Urmana's Brangaene, a magnificent Marke from Victor von Halem, the fantastic and impassioned leadership of Donald Runnicles) and bad (the ghastly Wolfgang Schmidt). I went three times.

She was supposed to sing the Kostenicka in Jenufai a decade ago, but an emergency took her back to England during the rehearsal period. We got the silent-movie acting of Kathryn Harries instead; I've always wondered what Connell would have been like.

She was an excellent singer who never achieved the kind of fame that the quality of her voice and singing should have earned her. I've heard some concert excerpts recorded when she was past 60, and she sounded better in them than plenty of dramatic sopranos 20 years her junior.

Rest in peace, Miss Connell; I'm sorry to see you go.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Prelude to Gatsby

Before seeing Ensemble Parallele's production of John Harbison's opera The Great Gatsby, I took the time to reread F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel.

I last read Gatsby as an impressionable teenager, and went on to read the then-current Fitzgerald bio, his short stories, Tender is the Night, and goodness knows what else. I had forgotten some of the sad details of his life - such as drinking himself to death at age 44 - but remembered some of the others (talented but mentally ill wife spending her last decade in an asylum before dying tragically in a fire). Thank you, Wikipedia, for the reminders.

I had also forgotten a whole lot about Gatsby, as in, almost all of the plot details. It's a compact novel and a quick read, which I knew because I'd picked up a used hardcover copy some years ago.

It's always interesting to reread a book you haven't touched in a few decades, especially a book with Gatsby's huge reputation. The book may be called The Great Gatsby, and the events of the novel may center around the mysterious Jay Gatsby, but from the reader's perspective, the central character is Nick Carraway, the narrator, who is the only character we see grow or change during the novel.

I understand why it's typically read by adolescents, though evidently not everybody does read it in junior high or high school. At that age, it's easy to identify with Gatsby and his dream of reunion with Daisy Buchanan, his longing for her and to be accepted in the upper-class society in which she lives. He's also, apparently, a self-made man who has risen to ostentatious wealth from humble beginnings.

But seriously. Past adolescence, it's just very hard to take much about this book seriously. The writing is sometimes beautiful but just as often awkward. The dialog is shallow and so are most of the characters. At my age, I have absolutely no sympathy for the 30-year-old Gatsby's adolescent longing and failure to understand that Daisy has moved on. I simply cannot swallow the impossible coincidence that brings on the final tragedy, or sympathize with how Gatsby protects Daisy.

It's easy enough to believe the shallow Buchanans and Tom's affair with the vibrant Myrtle Wilson, and to believe that observing all of this, Nick rejects NY society and goes back to the honest midwest. But it's hard for me to swallow Gatsby as a major American novel.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pour le Maitre

A press release about an upcoming performance by Pierre-Laurent Aimard contains this:
Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s upcoming appearances with the orchestras of Cleveland and Chicago were originally scheduled to be directed by Pierre Boulez. However, the conductor has been obliged to withdraw for medical reasons....
And the news eventually arrived that he'd also withdrawn from scheduled performances in Chicago. Best wishes to Maitre Boulez for a swift and complete recovery.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Benefits that Aren't

We have a party invitation for Saturday night, so I had to swap my SFS ticket - for Edo de Waart's crazy program - for Friday night. I noticed that the ticket was in the Second Tier, then remembered a subscriber benefit from SFS that I hadn't taken advantage of, a one-time opportunity to upgrade to a better section.

I called the Box Office and said I'd like to exchange my ticket....and I'd like to upgrade.

It turns out that I didn't remember or had never known the details of this offer.

  • You can only get the upgrade within the two hours before the program for which you want your ticket upgraded. The box office told me this is because "then they know what turn-ins there have been."
  • You can only ask for the upgrade at the box office.
  • You're supposed to produce a piece of paper about the offer, which was enclosed with your tickets. have to take a chance of not actually getting your upgrade; you have to wait in line during a busy period to exercise it, and you need to have a piece of paper with you that you probably haven't seen in months. It's sort of like getting a rush ticket! 

Did I mention that the SFS web site says very little about this benefit? 
Don’t miss the chance to get up close and personal with your favorite artists with a free one-time seat upgrade coupon, good for most performances. (Based on availability.)
The nice person on the phone did tell me that you can simply tell the box office that you lost the card with the offer. Okay, then - you don't really need it! But those other requirements must certainly limit the number of people who actually get this benefit.

Yes, I do have a draft of letter number 5 to SFS about this, with some ideas about how to improve this program so that it is a benefit, not a PITA.

(What did I do about Friday night? I upgraded to an orchestra seat for an additional $67, including the annoying $10 ticket exchange fee, because while there are plenty of available seats now, I am not much of a gambler. Why did I have a seat in the second tier? Because I bet you can hear that honking big organ perfectly well from any seat in the house.)

Charles Anthony

La Cieca reports that veteran tenor Charles Anthony has died at 82.

He sang in 2,928 Metropolitan Opera performances of 109 roles, starting with the Simpleton in Boris Godunov on March 6, 1954 and continuing at the house to a final Emperor Altoum in Turandot on January 28, 2010. He sang 159 performances as the Innkeeper in Rosenkavalier, more than 200 performances of Turandot in three different roles, and sang five different roles in Boris.

At his audition, he was advised not to sing under his birth name, Charles Anthony Calogero Antonio Caruso, so dropped his surname.

Here's the AP obituary for you, and here's the NYTimes obit.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Muti at Davies

I bought a ticket last week for the first program by Muti and the CSO; I bought the ticket so late because I wanted to make sure it was okay for me to be off by myself on Valentine's Day (it was) and because I'd spent an awful lot of time rolling my eyes and muttering "Could he have brought weirder programming?" to myself, over and over. I'm not a big fan of the Schubert "Great" C Major symphony, which is loooong and sprawling and hard to get right; something about the length makes conductors think it's Brahms when it's not. And last night's program's big piece was the Franck symphony, which made a friend who knows it roll his eyes.

I made the mistake of taking the dead-center row F ticket. Too damn close, and not because of the vaunted CSO brass. Too damn close for the noisiness of Mason Bates's Alternative Energy, the big work on the first half of the program, and the noisiness of Honneger's Pacific 231. The latter is an entertaining novelty, fun to hear, cute, nicely written, well-played.

As for the Bates: sigh. He has a great ear for catchy rhythms, for catchy riffs, for working a faux-folk/faux-Bartok Big Tune into a larger orchestral context, for the telling (and often extremely beautiful) orchestral sonority. He makes great use of percussion; there were so many percussion instruments on stage that the program merely stated "extremely large percussion battery." Yes, the recorded sounds from FermiLab were entertaining.

The program notes missed out on one important point about this piece. Movements one and two, and movements three and four, flow into each other, so that it presents as two movements of two sections each. From comments I heard around me, I'm not the only person who was slightly confused by this.

But getting back to the sigh. Alternative Energy is about 25 minutes long, and, alas, really should be about half that length. There is not much in the way of development, just riffing. And the riffing isn't interesting enough to sustain the piece for that long.

Okay, from the standing ovation accorded work and composer, and the remarks I heard around me, apparently most of the audience felt differently. Me, I sat there applauding politely.

What to say about the Franck? It is a somewhat odd piece, called a symphony, but not structured classically; it is more like three symphonic fantasies connected by common base material. It sounded familiar enough that I know I must have heard it in the past, but goodness knows when. It's not as though my music history teachers would have assigned it, and Franck is not high on my list of composers to investigate. The second movement, which more or less successfully functions as both slow movement and scherzo, is extremely beautiful and features a gorgeous English horn solo....that sounds as though it was lifted from one of the Schumann symphonies.

And what to say about Muti & the CSO? Well, that's one great orchestra. They sounded fantastic, with exceptionally beautiful lower string sound; they played with precision and discipline. I could not get much of a sense of what the solo winds are like, with the exception of the principal English horn, who is fabulous.I am not convinced that the brass section is better than that of, say, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra..or the San Francisco Symphony. Concertmaster Robert Chen sounded great in the violin solos of Alternative Energy.

I have no quarrels with what Muti did technically or musically with any of the work; tempos were just, balances excellent; he brought out the inner voices of all of the pieces beautifully; the giant orchestra never sounded muddy in the Bates. But I can't get much of a handle on what sort of interpreter he is from those works - and because of the oddness of the program, I went home feeling vaguely dissatisfied and wanting to play some Beethoven or Schumann for myself.

Monday, February 13, 2012

No. 4

Apropos of the American Mavericks pass and the ire I expressed a couple of weeks ago, I've just sent printed letter number four for the season off to San Francisco Symphony. We'll see what kind of response I get.

Season Announcement Season: LA Opera Plays It Safe

LA Opera's season announcement was last week, and hoo boy:

  • I Due Foscari
  • Don Giovanni 
  • Madama Butterfly
  • The Flying Dutchman
  • La Cenerentola
  • Tosca
That's playing it incredibly safe. Yeah, nobody's ever seen I Due Foscari, and it has both Domingo-as-baritone and the controversial Poplavskaya. Other than that...the casting looks good or better for everything else, though it's a little odd to find Eric Owens singing Sharpless. 

But one wonders, what happened to the Britten celebration that was promised? Will Recovered Voices ever return?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Save the Dates!

The back page of the Great Gatsby program has the exciting news that Mark Adamo's Lysistrata will be performed by Ensemble Parallele in February, 2013. I saw Lysistrata in NYC in August, 2006, when it was quite new. It is funny, touching, dramatically effective, beautifully put together, has some lovely music; I think it was the best new American opera of 2005, actually.

Mitt Romney, Opportunist

A revealing NY Times article on Mitt Romney's "evolving" views of abortion. Um, is there any reason to believe anything he says, given how willing he is to adjust his views for the current election or state? His stands are driven entirely by political expedience.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Dear Bishops:

That's the percentage of American Catholics who use birth control. Some infringement on religious liberty for Catholic-sponsored institutions such as hospitals for their health insurance to provide birth control coverage.

Oh, Dear

Way too much of Deborah Voigt's Bruennhilde is just plain embarrassing: pitchy, terrible or nonexistent enunciation (she is just not bothering with a shocking number of words), rushing, lunging at notes, poor connection with her lower register, etc., etc. She should be singing in the Sieglinde / Gutrune league, not Bruennhilde.

Also, I see why people wish Luisi had more weight in his conducting. The coda needs more majesty and more time to unfold than he is giving it. Why the big rush, Fabio?? You've got one of the greatest orchestras in the world in front of you. Slow down and let them enjoy themselves a bit more.

Luxury Casting

Today's Rheinmaidens sound splendid (I missed the announcement between acts and don't know who they are), and having Elizabeth Bishop and Heidi Melton as two of the Norns - wow. Bishop was our fabulous Fricka and Melton one of our Sieglindes in SF last year.

And...a cast change announcement from the Met advises me that Kyle Ketelsen and Bryn Terfel will each play Leporello in the upcoming run of Don Giovanni, with Ketelsen singing the first four before Terfel takes over the role.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Recording Babbitt's Music for the Mass

Last year, the International Orange Chorale, a much-decorated Bay Area chorus that sings a lot of interesting and often difficult 20th & 21st century music, put on an extremely rare performance of Milton Babbitt's Music for the Mass. Written 74 years ago, it's hardly been performed since. IOC was in contact with Babbitt's family toward the end of the composer's life, and so he knew that it would be performed. I am enormously touched by this.

This year, IOC is raising funds to record Music for the Mass. This is such a great use of Kickstarter, and as a Babbitt fan, I'm so happy I'll get to hear it.

If you can throw in a couple of bucks toward this worthy project, please do; if you're a fellow complexity lover, please spread the word!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

I can't remember if the program for SFS's Barbary Coast & Beyond concerts has been announced previously or not, but a press release that landed in my inbox a couple of hours ago has the story. It looks like MTT went completely nuts, in a good way, when he picked the works to be performed. The program is the kind of 19th century monstrosity I thought I'd never hear:

Barbary Coast & Beyond: Music from the Gold Rush to the Panama-Pacific Exposition
Michael Tilson Thomas conductor
Laura Claycomb soprano
Vadim Gluzman violin
Anton Nel piano
Cameron Carpenter organ
James Robinson producer and director
San Francisco Symphony

Meyerbeer Coronation March from Le prophète
Gottschalk Grand tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra
Wieniawski Allegro moderato, à la Zingara from Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Opus 22
Bull Herdgirl’s Sunday
Délibes Les Filles de Cadix
Offenbach Overture to Orphée aux enfers
Flotow/Osborne “The Last Rose of Summer”
Kreisler Tambourin Chinois
Wagner Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Sousa The Pathfinder of Panama
Rossini Overture to William Tell
Saint-Saëns Hail! California
Various California Medley

Okay, it's missing a Beethoven symphony, but wheeeeeeeeeeee!

Dates are May 10, 11, 12.

Guess I'd better pick up a ticket!


Last week, I celebrated Philip Glass's 75th birthday a day late, by listening to his Eighth Symphony (Dennis Russell Davies/Bruckner Orchester Linz/Orange Mountain Music). I wish I'd been able to find Satyagraha, but it is somewhere in the current chaos of my CD collection, and I could not.

Some thoughts on Glass from around the Internet, well worth reading -
Longtime readers of this blog who've been around for a while will recall that Music in Twelve Partx drove me from Davies nine parts in (and inspired my best blog posting ever) - and that I liked Appomattox and loved "Songs & Poems for Cello." Looking forward to Einstein on the Beach, you betcha.

For the Curious...

...and I know there are many of us: San Francisco Symphony's season announcement will be on March 6, 2012.

Can they, will they, equal this year's extraordinary feast?

Metropolitan Opera Cast Change

Voigt out, Dalayman in, for tonight's Goetterdaemmerung. Who, pray tell, will take the stage for Saturday's HD broadcast?


Certain persons, myself included, are waiting for April 24, 2015 for our special bicentennial celebration, but in the meantime, take a look at the Google home page for today's doodle. (I must admit, it could be less cartoonish.)

Monday, February 06, 2012

LA Opera / LAPO

In advance of its season announcement, LA Opera is running a photo teaser series on its Facebook page.

The first photo is getting guesses as diverse as Parsifal, Rigoletto, and The Fly.

Meanwhile, LAPO has announced what looks like an incredible season. CKDH is all excited about the opening program, which will include a new work by Steven Stucky and Le sacre du printemps, but what I'm all excited about is a Lutoslawski centenary series conducted by one Esa-Pekka Salonen. More details after I study the announcement and season further.

Luisotti Appointed Music Director of Teatro di San Carlo, Naples

Karen Ames's press release has the story -

      February 6, 2012 -- Nicola Luisotti has been appointed Music Director of Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy,  effective immediately.  The news was announced over the weekend by General Director Rosanna Purchia and the Board of Directors of the Teatro di San Carlo Foundation 

following a meeting where the unanimous decision was taken.  Maestro Luisotti succeeds former Principal Conductor Maurizio Benini and Music Director Jeffrey Tate.  Born and raised in Tuscany, the 50-year old Luisotti is currently Music Director of San Francisco Opera and Principal Guest Conductor of the Tokyo Philharmonic.  



The news that he's conducting I Masnadieri there makes me wonder if the production will be coming west.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

More on Martyr

Last month, Chloe Veltman and Brian Rosen talked on her radio show about bad music and a supposed general reluctance to criticize classical music. Now, I don't think I agree with the thesis that people are just unwilling to say any particular piece of classical music is bad or doesn't work or whatever; one need only glance at A Lexicon of Musical Invective or reviews of new music to see plenty of negative opinions. But Chloe then offered up Le Martyr de Saint Sebastien as an example of bad music. A rather entertaining discussion ensued, because one of Chloe's readers thinks the Janacek Sinfonietta is bad music. Say what?

I mixed it up elsewhere a few years ago with him, and he comes across here (as he did then) as a troll; unwilling to provide support for his opinions, unwilling to do a little research on his own; stating opinion as fact; unwilling to respond in full to any points made by others. So I dropped out fairly soon.

But there are real problems in trying to label music as "bad," and anyway, why would you want to? Is the music uninteresting? Ineffective? Derivative? Lacks originality? Ugly? Boring? The specific reasons why a piece doesn't work are always going to be more interesting than saying "it's bad," and they're certainly what I want to hear from a commentator.

What's It All About, Sebby?

Hoo boy! 

I think I looked forward to the Janacek/Debussy SFS program more than almost any other this year, its equals being Salonen's program (which I swear I will write about) and the upcoming performances of Bluebeard's Castle. (I've seen Bluebeard three times, all very well performed, but never with an orchestra of the caliber of SFS.) Oh, and maybe that crazy program Edo de Waart is leading, which includes, what, Rach 4 and the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony??? You rawk, Edo!

In any event. I'd never heard the Janacek live and until a couple of weeks ago, I'd never heard Debussy's Le Martyr de Saint Sebastien at all. To prepare, I got myself Ansermet's recording, which was available as an inexpensive download from eClassical. 

The Janacek was just what I expected (thank you, Karel Ancerl!), though even more wonderful in person than on record; heard live, the Debussy far, far exceeded my expectations, to the point that my head was exploding by the time it was over. That Ansermet performance is....mediocre at best. It's in constricted 50s mono and the soloist really do not seem to have a clue, as in, the altos in that mysterious opening can't even sing in tune with each other. It does not begin to adequately represent the beauty of Saint Sebastien

I see from his review and mine that Joshua Kosman and I both thought highly of the performance and staging, but I am rather more convinced by the piece than he is. Surely this has something to do with expectations and prior exposure to the piece; that is, I am assuming that Joshua knows it better than I do. But I think there's more to it than that.

For one thing, Joshua's working assumption is that the subject is martyrdom per se, as I read his review - though it's true that his opening line includes the phrase "rapturous ecstasy of martyrdom." My take on the piece is different: I think it's about the eroticism and ecstasy surrounding martyrdom and religious experience, not martyrdom itself.

Consider the text, which is full of references to ecstasy and love. The brothers ask whether there has ever been a love like theirs, for Jesus and St. Sebastien, but perhaps for each other. Sebastien longs to die at the hands of the archers, pierced; the music and text couldn't be more passionately erotic. The iconography of St. Sebastien is one of the glories of medieval and Renaissance painting, the nearly-naked Sebastien pierced by arrows.

Perhaps you need a more medieval or more Catholic sensibility for this to make the desired impact. No Catholic I, but I minored in medieval studies and retain a certain fascination for various facets of Catholicism. There's that collection of Annunciation painting postcards I have at work, for example.

So I emerged from the performance in a transcended state, carried away by the music and the excellence of the presentation. I own that a full five-hour performance would have involved quite a bit of suffering, not erotically, over d'Annunzio's text, which I'm sure is unbearable in full. Still, I'd go for it were anyone crazy enough to put it on.

I am a bit surprised that Joshua cites Messiaen while mentioning that martyrdom is a hard sell these days. So what do you think of Dialogs of the Carmelites, Joshua? That would have made an interesting point of reference for discussing Le Martyr.

Camilla Williams

The lyric soprano Camilla Williams died earlier this week at 92. On May 15, 1946, she became the first African American woman to sing with a major opera company in the United States. The role was Cio-Cio-San, the company was New York City Opera. For reasons described in the Times obit I link to, she has remained in the shadow of the more famous Marion Anderson, but the two singers knew and deeply respected each other. You can hear Camilla Williams on YouTube.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Komen vs. Planned Parenthood

The Susan G. Komen Foundation caved to public pressure today, following several days of outrage over their cancellation of funding for Planned Parenthood.

Still, don't donate to Komen. The cancer activists I know all hate Komen, which sucks up a lot of energy and money without doing all that much. I Blame the Patriarchy has the details. If you're looking for a great advocacy group that does a lot for women with cancer, consider donating to the Women's Cancer Resource Center. Or give a few bucks to Planned Parenthood, which has been fighting the good fight for women's health - yes, including abortion services - for a long time.

Update: A friend points out that late last year, the Komen Foundation cut off $12 million in stem cell research. Here's the story on that.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

More Early Recordings

A box of wax cylinders found at Thomas Edison's lab turns out to be legendary recordings made in 1889 and 1890. They include a recording of Bismarck, the German chancellor, and of Helmuth von Moltke, a military strategist born in 1800. That's 13 years before Wagner and Verdi were born, during the lifetimes of Beethoven, Haydn, and Berlioz.

Read all about it and hear samples at the NY Times. The trove of Russian cylinders "recently uncovered" (not exactly!) is, of course, the Julius Block cylinders, published on Marston a few years ago.